My family’s foolproof recipe for summertime fun is kids plus canoes. Just add water and stir gently with a paddle. Then the magic happens — my kids can get wild, tromp through the mud, get nose-to-nose with tadpoles, and look for cool rocks.
Float trips are guaranteed fun and take you straight into the heart of Missouri’s most scenic country. No matter where you live in the Show-Me State, you’re probably close to a floatable, boatable waterway. That’s because Missouri is blessed with thousands of miles of streams and rivers.
Even if you don’t own a canoe, getting on the water can be easy. More than 130 canoe outfitters can take the guesswork out of planning a safe, memorable trip. See Take Me to the River on this page for resources that will help you pick the best streams for your family’s first float trip and find outfitters on the waters you want to float.
Stretch the Summer Float Season
Summer floating fun doesn’t have to end when the kids go back to school. August and September offer plenty of beautiful, hot days to stretch the float season and enjoy one last trip. There are many advantages to floating in August and September. The large summer crowds are gone, river flows are nice and low, and good campsites are plentiful. Many of Missouri’s rivers are spring fed and continue to offer prime floating well into fall and beyond. October floats bring some of the greatest rewards of the paddling season with cool nights and vivid fall colors.
There’s a Float for Every Season
Truth is, you can float in every season, spring through winter. During the spring, I paddle and fly-fish my way down the upper Jacks Fork before the forests close their leafy veils. The crystal clear water and schools of fish darting below my canoe are mesmerizing. In summer, my kids and I paddle the Meramec’s high-water crests and also enjoy lazy summer days on the Elk. Each October, we soak in the vibrant fall colors while floating down the Missouri as eagles glide silently above. What could be better than spotting eagles by canoe, stoking a nice campfire under star-filled skies, and finally nodding off inside a toasty sleeping bag on a sandbar?
On the Niangua in winter, we enjoy the deep silence as snowflakes envelop the forest around us. The crisp winter air and monochromatic snow-covered scenery become treasured family memories.
Don’t be afraid to try a winter float trip. The right gear and good planning can help your family have an enjoyable float any time of the year. Missouri’s outfitters can help make your family’s first off-season float a good one.
Find a Favorite Backyard Float
When recollecting great times with friends and family, what flows through many of these memories are rivers. While some of my most adventurous canoe trips have been deep in the wilds of the Ozarks, other memorable trips were paddling the old creek slough only two blocks from my house in Rocheport.
After all, adventure is an attitude, not a destination. My kids and I explored the old Moniteau Creek slough while it was high with spring rains. I’ll never forget laughing as Naomi and Everett cracked open the snacks while the canoe was still halfway on shore, before we had even shoved off. (Note to self: snacks = happy kids, happy float.)
The creek that day was a spellbinding world of little water creatures clinging to ancient floating stumps. We were amazed at what we found. We saw whirligig beetles, water striders, dragonflies, small tree frogs, and countless other tiny forms of life. Paddling slowly in our canoe, we were immersed in a working wetland, one of the most biologically rich habitats in the world. That trip reminded me that on a float, it really doesn’t matter how many miles we make — rather, it’s what we make in the miles that counts.
Paddle Missouri’s Greatest Rivers
Other float trips are destination floats. There is no shortage of paddling destinations in Missouri, and planning a daytrip or overnight float has never been easier.
The Conservation Department has built a network of hundreds of boat ramps and accesses on the majority of Missouri’s paddle-friendly rivers and streams. See the Take Me to the River sidebar for details about how to find river accesses near you and around the state.
This summer, my kids and I are hoping to paddle seven of Missouri’s rivers to see what the Show-Me State has to offer. In addition to trips on the Jacks Fork, Missouri, Meramec, and Elk, we hope to float the North Fork of the White, the Big Piney, and the Eleven Point. Your family might try some of these rivers, too!
Wherever You Are, Start There
At the end of the day, regardless of your paddling destination, it’s the going that matters the most. Paddling a river — any river — with family is as close to discovering the fountain of youth as we may find.
Something transformative happens when I touch the wooden handle of my canoe paddle. Suddenly, so many layers of adult life fall away. There’s a certain joy and meditation that only occurs when you’re drifting silently down an Ozark stream. For a moment, you’re a part of nature. There’s no windshield or pavement separating you. The flow carries you along, and you drift impossibly close to great blue herons, wood ducks, red-bellied woodpeckers, and belted kingfishers. No sounds get between you and the jovial trills of the northern parula. And the next bite on the fishing line is always tantalizingly close.
The more we float Missouri’s rivers, the richer my family’s life becomes. And that is my wish for you. Rivers are an important part of our culture, not just part of our view. They enrich our lives. They fill our memories. Missouri’s rivers aren’t something we float on top of, detached. On a float, we become part of the flow. And that flow becomes part of our life
Take Me To The River
- Visit the Conservation Department’s float page for links to area boat ramps, canoe outfitters, paddling workshops, and the Online Conservation Atlas, featuring hundreds of accesses: mdc.mo.gov/node/17947.
- Two useful books about Missouri’s rivers are A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri ($8 plus shipping) and Voices of Missouri’s Rivers ($19.50 plus shipping).
- Both are available from Conservation Department nature centers, online at mdcnatureshop.com, or by calling toll free 877-521-8632.
- Watch a short Department video about prepping for a float trip at mdc.mo.gov/node/31057.
Stash Your Trash
The Missouri Stream Team program works with participating outfitters to provide free Stash Your Trash red mesh bags. These handy bags help you keep Missouri streams clean and healthy while you’re having fun on the water. Remember — glass containers and bottles and all foam-type coolers are prohibited on or near any waterway by Missouri law. Missouri’s streams are beautiful and full of life.
They’re also a big part of Missouri’s outdoor recreation economy. Please support the businesses that participate in the Stream Team’s Stash Your Trash program. Visit mdc.mo.gov/node/17947.
Reel In More Fun With Your Family
The Discover Nature — Fishing program helps kids and families gain fishing skills. Call your regional Department of Conservation office to learn when classes are available in your area, or visit mdc.mo.gov/node/27175 to browse the events calendar.
Buy fishing permits online for easy and immediate printing and use at mdc.mo.gov/node/5006. You can also buy permits from vendors and by phone by calling toll free 1-800-392-4115. Learn more about smallmouth bass fishing at mdc.mo.gov/node/5853
Buying Fishing Permits, Rods, and Reels Puts Fish In The Water
If you’ve ever purchased fishing permits, fishing lures, or rods and reels, you’re part of one of the most successful efforts to conserve sport fish in America.
The Conservation Department receives federal excise taxes paid by anglers in the state on fishing tackle, motorboat fuel, and electric outboard motors through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sport Fish Restoration Program. These funds are returned to the Conservation Department to conserve, manage, and enhance fisheries, develop boat accesses, and to help fund angler and aquatic resource education. Since 1952, Missouri has received more than $166 million from the Sport Fish Restoration Program.
For more than 75 years, Missourians also have helped improve Missouri’s fishing by buying fishing permits, which fund fisheries conservation work. Every Missourian is a partner in conservation, thanks to the conservation sales tax, which allocates 1 penny for conservation efforts from every $8 of taxable items purchased.
This dedicated sales tax provides consistent funding for the long-term efforts required for the conservation of forests, fish, and wildlife.